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Speech and language therapy to improve the communication skills of children with cerebral palsy

Pennington, Lindsay and Goldbart, Juliet and Marshall, Julie (2003) Speech and language therapy to improve the communication skills of children with cerebral palsy. ISSN 1465-1858

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Abstract

Background: The production of speech, language and gesture for communication is often affected by cerebral palsy. Communication difficulties associated with cerebral palsy can be multifactorial, arising from motor, intellectual and / or sensory impairments, and children with this diagnosis can experience mild to severe difficulties in expressing themselves. They are often referred to speech and language therapy (SLT) services, to maximise their communication skills and help them to take an independent a role as possible in interaction. This can include introducing augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems, such as symbol charts or speech synthesizers, as well treating children's natural forms of communication. Various strategies have been used to treat the communication disorders associated with cerebral palsy but evidence of their effectiveness is limited. Objectives: • To determine the effectiveness of SLT that focuses on the child or their familiar communication partners, as measured by change in interaction patterns. • To determine if individual types of SLT intervention are more effective than others in changing interaction patterns. Search strategy: Searches were conducted of MEDLINE, CINAHL, EMBASE, PSYCH INFO, LLBA, ERIC, WEB of SCIENCE, NRR, BEI, SIGLE up to December 2002. References from identified studies were examined and relevant journals and conference reports were hand-searched. Selection criteria: Any experimental study containing an element of control was included in this review. This includes non-randomised group studies and single case experimental designs in which two interventions were compared or two communication processes were examined. Data collection and analysis: L Pennington searched for and selected studies for inclusion. J Goldbart and J Marshall independently assessed separate random samples each comprising 25% of all identified studies. Two reviewers independently abstracted data from each selected study. Disagreements were settled by discussion between the three reviewers. Main results: Eleven studies were included in the review. Seven studies evaluated treatment given directly to children, four investigated the effects of training for communication partners. Subjects in the studies varied widely in age, type and severity of cerebral palsy, cognitive and linguistic skills. Studies focusing directly on children suggest that this model of therapy delivery has been associated with increases in treated communication skills by individual children. However, methodological flaws prevent firm conclusions being made about the effectiveness of therapy. In addition, maintenance of these skills was not investigated thoroughly. The studies targeting communication partners describe small exploratory group projects which contain insufficient detail to allow replication, have very low power and cannot provide evidence of effectiveness of this type of treatment. Authors' conclusions: Firm evidence of the positive effects of SLT for children with cerebral palsy has not been demonstrated by this review. However, positive trends in communication change were shown. No change in practice is recommended from this review. Further research is needed to describe this client group, and its possible clinical subgroups, and the methods of treatment currently used in SLT. Research is also needed to investigate the effectiveness of new and established interventions and their acceptability to families. Rigour in research practice needs to be extended to enable firm associations between therapy and communication change to be made.

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